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NBA Eastern Conference Playoff Picture: Examining Wizards and Teams to Watch

Jake RillSenior Analyst IIIJuly 24, 2020

Washington Wizards forward Rui Hachimura, of Japan, works out prior to an NBA basketball game against the Miami Heat, Sunday, March 8, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Nick Wass/Associated Press

Before the 2019-20 NBA season was suspended in mid-March, six Eastern Conference teams had clinched their spots in the playoffs: the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers. When the season restarts, they each have eight games in which to battle for seeding.

There were also six Eastern Conference teams eliminated from playoff contention: the Charlotte Hornets, Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers. Those teams weren't invited to the NBA season restart in Orlando, Florida.

That leaves three teams fighting for two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. The Brooklyn Nets, Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards will be playing crucial games that will determine whether they will still be at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex when the playoffs start Aug. 17.

Here's a look at the Eastern Conference standings before the season resumes July 30, followed by a breakdown of those three teams battling to get into the playoffs.

                     

NBA Eastern Conference Standings

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1. Milwaukee Bucks (53-12)

2. Toronto Raptors (46-18)

3. Boston Celtics (43-21)

4. Miami Heat (41-24)

5. Indiana Pacers (39-26)

6. Philadelphia 76ers (39-26)

7. Brooklyn Nets (30-34)

8. Orlando Magic (30-35)

9. Washington Wizards (24-40)

                  

Brooklyn Nets

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

With a six-game cushion over the Wizards, it would take an abysmal eight-game stretch for Brooklyn and a strong showing by Washington for the Nets to miss out on the playoffs. However, they are not in a great position to make noise in the postseason.

Superstars Kevin Durant (Achilles) and Kyrie Irving (right shoulder) won't be joining the team. Not only that, but DeAndre Jordan, Spencer Dinwiddie, Wilson Chandler and Nic Claxton also aren't playing the rest of the season.

That leaves Caris LeVert, Joe Harris and Jarrett Allen to carry most of the load for Brooklyn. So when it likely gets matched up against a team such as Milwaukee, Toronto or Boston in the opening round of the playoffs, it's going to be an uphill struggle.

Brooklyn's first two seeding games are against Orlando and Washington, and it also plays the Magic a second time before the postseason. Currently the No. 7 seed, the Nets could hold on to that spot if they fare well against those two teams.

After becoming Brooklyn's interim head coach in March, Jacque Vaughn led the team for only two games before the season was suspended. Although the Nets are without key pieces, the rest of the season could be an opportunity for Vaughn to prove he deserves the gig on a permanent basis.

              

Orlando Magic

Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

The Magic are in much better shape than the Nets, as they have all their key players in the NBA bubble. Markelle Fultz (late arrival to training camp) and Jonathan Isaac (recovering from a left knee sprain) didn't play in their first scrimmage against the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday, but the team is still closer to full strength than some of their rivals.

Orlando also appears to be in good shape to reach the playoffs for the second consecutive season and potentially move up to the No. 7 seed. It's a half-game behind Brooklyn and has a 5.5-game advantage over Washington for the final playoff spot.

Magic players were positive after their first scrimmage despite losing 99-90.

"My rhythm, it was better than I thought it would be," Orlando center Nikola Vucevic said, according to The Athletic's Josh Robbins. "I felt pretty good out there playing with my teammates and on the defensive end. But I think that we definitely need to use this week to tweak things, get into better rhythm on both ends, make sure our communication on the defensive end is good and stuff like that."

The Magic will play some of the Eastern Conference's top teams during their eight seeding games, including the Raptors and Celtics. If they get on a roll, they would make the playoffs and could use that momentum to make a surprising run.

                  

Washington Wizards

Heading into the season restart, the Wizards are facing a fairly large deficit. In order to make the playoffs, they have to catch either the Nets (six games ahead) or the Magic (5.5). And with only eight games in which to make up ground, that may prove to be too difficult.

It won't help Washington that it will be without its two leading scorers. Bradley Beal (30.5 points per game) is dealing with a right rotator cuff injury, while Davis Bertans (15.4) opted not to play in the NBA bubble. The Wizards are also still without John Wall, who hasn't played since December 2018 because of a ruptured Achilles tendon.

While the odds are against Washington, general manager Tommy Sheppard isn't counting out his team.

"Certainly, we're going there to win games," Sheppard said, according to Howard Fendrich of the Associated Press (h/t Yahoo Sports). "We're going to try to make the playoffs. That's 100 percent our goal."

If the Wizards are going to make an unlikely postseason push, they may be heavily reliant on rookie forward Rui Hachimura, who is averaging 13.4 points and 6.0 rebounds per game this season.

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